Posted by: Mark Gimein on October 22, 2011 at 7:15 PM
Last night I went down to Zuccotti Park.* Getting there now means navigating a maze of police barricades. “People are stupid, they don’t know what’s going on down there,” one cop muttered as I squeezed past him—though he was polite enough to direct me when I explained that I actually wanted to get to “what’s going on down there.” Once you are inside, though, it’s a nice enough scene, with a vibe resonant much more of optimism than foreboding.
To me, though, the protests are more powerful online than live. The demonstration itself feels familiar in all the wrong ways—a youthful assemblage with nearly as many anti-war signs as economic protest signs. It is as if the closer you get to the epicenter, the more amorphous the subject and demands become.
One way to get a sense of this is to compare the officially “unofficial” OWS blog to the We Are The 99% Tumblr. The rawness of the individual stories on the Tumblr and the hand lettered signs is genuinely affecting. The blog, on the other hand, won’t do anything to persuade anyone who is not already on the same side.
“Why has this succeeded where other movements have failed?” is an acute question for the organizers of OWS, many veterans of other protests—anti-nuke, anti-capital punishment—that never gained similar traction (See, for instance, this long piece by David Graeber at the econ blog Naked Capitalism). I think the range of the personal stories is a bigger factor than the organizational efforts on display at Zuccotti Square.
Another factor is that the media was already primed for this story. Organizers ask why the press has paid attention to this when they’ve ignored so many other protests. The answer isn’t that the press was somehow forced to listen. It’s that the growing wealth gap is a story that has been getting attention from the media for a long while now (there are a ton of important stories the press has conspicuously failed on—this isn’t one of them).
What’s the takeaway strategy from the OWS protest? Maybe this: Take on a really big subject that the press is already eager to cover. Then add visuals.
*Correction: This post originally referred to Zuccotti Square. The protest site is Zuccotti Park.